Breast Cancer Research Q&A with Dr. Yu Chen

Published on August 30, 2010

Updated on February 13, 2018

With National Breast Cancer Awareness Month right around the corner, the Foundation is highlighting the research of Dr. Yu Chen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Chen received a two-year grant from the Foundation beginning in January 2009. His research focuses on developing high-resolution, multi-modal optical imaging techniques that can accurately guide biopsy procedures to improve test results so that breast cancer can be diagnosed at an earlier stage.

We asked Dr. Chen the following questions about his research and the importance of funding cancer prevention and early detection research.

Q: Explain the significance of your current research. 

The earlier breast cancer can be detected, the more likely it is to be treated effectively. Only 60% of breast cancers are diagnosed in their early or curable stages. Conventional needle-based biopsy techniques result in high false negatives due to sampling errors. Image-guided biopsies can improve sampling success rates, but currently those improvements are limited to lesions that are visible using conventional imaging methods such as ultrasound or mammography. These techniques cannot adequately identify small lesions. With the support from the Prevent Cancer Foundation, we have developed new imaging technology and further accelerated its clinical translation.

Q: Why would this (the outcome of your research) be such a critical finding?

We expect to help the physician achieve a more sensitive and accurate diagnosis of breast cancer.

There are three key aspects in our solution. First, we perform high-resolution imaging of breast tissues using optical coherence tomography (OCT), which is an optical analog of ultrasound, but with 10-100 times higher resolution. OCT enables us to visualize breast tissue morphology such as glandular or stromal (connective tissue and supporting cells in the breast) architectures in greater detail. Next, we combine OCT with fluorescence molecular imaging. This approach enables us to visualize not only tissue morphology, but the molecular processes such as enzyme activities, which is sensitive to detect early diseases. Furthermore, we have miniaturized this technology into a small-diameter needle imaging probe which can be incorporated into standard biopsy devices. This allows the physician to see the tissue structure and function before they actually remove a tissue sample (biopsy).

Q: Why is it important to fund research in the field of cancer prevention and early detection?

The identification of early cancer is critical for clinical cancer diagnosis and treatment. If cancer can be detected in an early and localized state, therapeutic interventions can have the greatest impact. However, once cancer becomes metastatic, treatment becomes difficult and the survival rate decreases significantly. For example, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98% when detected early, but it drops to only 27% when that cancer turns metastatic and begins to spread throughout the body.

The Prevent Cancer Foundation thanks Dr. Chen for giving his insight into his promising research. To learn more about Foundation funded research visit

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